Staff photo/Hayley Day Mark Herrenkohl, county environmental resources interim manager, worked with the officials from the Town of Friday Harbor to create the proposed amendments to the county plastic bag ordinance.

The town will require recycled paper bags, but should the county?

San Juan County council banned single-use plastic bags last October, but a new proposed amendment to that ordinance may now mandate recycled paper bags.

“This is a plastic bag ban, not a required recycled paper bag (use),” said Councilman Rick Hughes of one proposed amendment at the March 6 county council meeting.

The changes mirror the single-use plastic bag ban ordinance The Town of Friday Harbor Council unanimously adopted on Feb. 16. A joint agreement brought town and county officials to collaborate on the same language in both ordinances. The town requested to change two sections a day before their adoption. Mark Herrenkohl, county environmental resources interim manager, agreed and, to ensure the town and county had the same procedures, presented amendments to reflect those changes at the March 6 county council meeting.

“As (town officials) were working through, they took our ordinance, pretty much verbatim, formatted it to the town and then found these two sections they felt needed strengthening and we agreed,” explained Herrenkohl to council.

To “give teeth” to the regulations, said Herrenkohl, one proposed amendment states retailers “shall only provide either a reusable bag or a recycled plastic bag.”

Hughes wasn’t sure if his Orcas Island pharmacy would be in compliance with that change and feared the added expense would burden businesses.

“If you have a paper bag and it’s not recycled, then you can’t use it,” said Hughes.

Herrenkohl assured he had surveyed most island businesses and the majority use the ordinance’s requirement of recycled paper bags made of at least 40 percent recycled materials. He also noted that retailers have a year to use non-compliant bags before the compliant ones arrive.

“It’s not really about the supply that’s on hand, it’s about further consideration for bags needed,” said Hughes at the March 20 council meeting.

Hughes insisted that he only voted on the ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags, not to include other bag requirements. Town officials had a different vision at the Feb. 16 meeting.

“It’s clear that what we’re dealing with is not just a plastic bag restriction; this is also a restriction on other types of carryout bags, in that, if it’s paper, it has to meet certain content requirements,” said Town Administrator Duncan Wilson before the town ordinance was passed.

The other proposed amendment to the county ordinance would simplify the current definition of a reusable plastic bag as one made of cloth, machine washable fabric or 2.25-mils-thick plastic. Herrenkohl questioned the ability to enforce some of the current rules, like that handles must be designed for long-term multiple reuse, and suggested they be omitted. Councilman Jamie Stephens agreed with the simplification at the March 6 meeting.

A public meeting is set for 9:15 a.m., April 18, to discuss the amendments. Both the town and county’s ordinances are set to take effect on May 1.